Northern Rivers councils are facing massive hikes in street lighting charges in a move described by Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell as ‘night-time robbery’.
Essential Energy informed the councils this week that street lighting charges for 2015-2016 were set to rise if the Australian Energy Regulator approved the increases.
In Lismore’s case, a 73 per cent price hike would add $143,000 to the power bill.
Other council areas face similar rises.
A 73 per cent hike for Byron adds $65,500, Tweed would pay an extra $220,000 under its 58 per cent hike, Ballina also faces a 73 per cent hike, adding $126,150, Kyogle’s 86 per cent increase adds $26,300, and Richmond Valley an extra $70,300 under its 70 per cent increase.
Cr Dowell said while Lismore council could embrace renewables and try to save on electricity in its own facilities, ‘we are over a barrel when it comes to street lighting’.
‘This proposal may not be accepted by the AER but it’s highly likely that a sizeable increase will be on the cards,’ she said.
‘The increases are across the state. The lowest is 28 per cent but the highest is 123 per cent in Broken Hill,’ she said.
‘These are huge increases and it seems the smaller councils are being hit the hardest, and their capacity to pay will be harder.’
Cr Dowell said the proposed increases had ‘come out of the blue’.
She said the NSW Local Government Association had contacted councils urging them to put in submissions against the increase.
She said some councils could combine to put in joint submissions, which close on 8 August.
‘According to Essential Energy it is expected that a draft determination will be made by November,’ she said.
Cr Dowell described the proposed increases as outrageous.
‘We’ve been trying to get them to swap to LED lighting but we are at the mercy of their timetable,’ she said.
Cr Dowell said councils wanting to increase rates were limited by the state government imposed rate pegging legislation, which allowed increases up to 2.3 per cent, but any increases had to be approved.
‘We’re over a barrel because they’re the sole supplier and we have to pay what they demand,’ she said.
‘We are asking why now? There’s been an opportunity for Essential Energy to liaise with us on this for a long time.
‘We’ve had close relations with the upgrading of street lighting since 2008 and we were told there would be savings.’
Essential Energy issued a statement regarding the cost increases.
‘Essential Energy submitted its Substantive Regulatory Proposal for 2015-19 to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) on 30 May 2014. The proposal details our capital and operating plans, and the revenue required to deliver Essential Energy services, over the four-year regulatory period,’ the statement said.
‘As part of this submission, Essential Energy is proposing to move to a cost recovery model for services defined under ‘alternative control’, including public lighting. In the past, the cost of these services has been under-recovered.
‘The new model proposes more cost-reflective tariffs which aim to ensure effective, efficient and compliant operations during the next regulatory period.
‘To assist Councils in budget planning, increases covered under our transitional regulatory proposal (1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015) will be in line with CPI. Essential Energy is then proposing a range of more substantial increases required to cover the full cost of the public lighting service from 1 July 2015.
‘If our proposal is accepted by the AER, the level of increase will obviously differ according to each Council’s public lighting circumstances.
‘The AER is expected to make a draft determination on our Substantive Regulatory Proposal in November 2014 with its final determination due to be issued on 30 April 2015.
‘The proposal is available online at essentialenergy.com.au
Spokesman Mike Hely told Echonetdaily that the increases were only a proposal at this stage and had not been approved.
Mr Hely said he was unable to comment further.